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Arkansas governor sets execution for inmate, spares another

Jack Greene Photo: AP. Jack Greene

August 25, 2017 02:02 PM

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas' governor on Friday said he intended to spare the life of a death row inmate who the state intended to put to death earlier this year, but he set a November execution date for another convicted killer.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued a proclamation scheduling a Nov. 9 execution — marking the state's first scheduled lethal injection since putting four men to death in April — for Jack Greene, who was convicted of killing Sidney Jethro Burnett in 1991 after Burnett and his wife accused Greene of arson.

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The governor later said he planned to commute the death sentence of another inmate, Jason McGehee, who was among eight men originally scheduled for execution in April. The state scheduled those executions to occur before its supply of midazolam expired. The sedative is used in the state's three-drug lethal injection process.

The state announced last week it had obtained a new supply of the drug after Attorney General Leslie Rutledge asked Hutchinson to set Greene's execution. The state paid $250 in cash for enough midazolam to conduct two executions, according to Department of Correction records.

The drug supply expires in January 2019. A state law keeps the source of the state's execution drugs secret.

Less than two hours after scheduling the execution for Greene, who wasn't among the four inmates spared by the courts from execution in April, Hutchinson said he planned to commute McGehee's sentence to life without parole. McGehee had been sentenced to death in the 1996 beating death of 15-year-old Johnny Melbourne Jr.

"In making this decision I considered many factors including the entire trial transcript, meetings with members of the victim's family and the recommendation of the Parole Board," Hutchinson said in a statement.

McGehee had faced an April 27 execution, but a federal judge put his execution on hold after the Arkansas Parole Board recommended clemency.

The other three inmates who were spared from April's executions have court appeals pending.

Greene's attorneys argue that the convicted killer is severely mentally ill, saying he suffers from a fixed delusion that prison officials are conspiring with his attorneys to cover up injuries he believes corrections officers have inflicted on him. The delusions cause Greene to constantly twist his body and stuff his ear and nose with toilet paper to cope with the pain, his attorneys said.

"In the coming weeks, it's imperative that the appropriate decision makers consider whether the state should execute a man in such a feeble mental state," Scott Braden, an assistant federal defender, said in a statement. "The U.S. Supreme Court has been clear that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of someone who cannot rationally comprehend his execution. Two-and-a-half decades of solitary confinement — piled on top of Mr. Greene's existing mental fragility — call the legality of Mr. Greene's execution into serious doubt."

Rutledge said Greene has exhausted his appeals and there's no stay of execution in place. The governor did not comment beyond setting the execution date.

Prosecutors alleged Greene beat Burnett with a can of hominy before stabbing him and slitting his throat. Greene had three trials. Death sentences in his first two were overturned because prosecutors improperly used a separate court case as an aggravating circumstance.

At the sentencing phase in his third trial, the court wouldn't let Greene show jurors a letter he had received from Burnett's widow, forgiving him. The court said it didn't reflect on Greene's character and couldn't count as a mitigating factor.

The executions in April were Arkansas' first since 2005, and its first using midazolam. Death penalty opponents say the drug is incapable of inducing unconsciousness or preventing serious pain.

The sedative has been used in several problematic executions. Kenneth Williams, one of the inmates Arkansas put to death in April using the drug, lurched and convulsed 20 times during his execution.

Hutchinson rejected calls for an outside investigation of the executions after Williams was put to death.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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By ANDREW DeMILLO

(Copyright 2017 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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